Interpol warns organised crime will target COVID-19 vaccines

With COVID-19 vaccination programmes poised to start in the UK, Russia and other countries shortly, Interpol has warned that organised criminals are preparing to cash in on the roll out.

The international police agency has issued an Orange Notice to forces in its 194 member countries warning them to prepare for falsification, theft and illegal advertising of COVID-19 as well as flu vaccines this winter and beyond.

An Orange Notice is described as a serious and imminent threat to public safety, and Interpol has previously said that a COVID-19 vaccine will be “the equivalent of liquid gold to organised crime networks.”

The pandemic has already triggered “unprecedented opportunistic and predatory criminal behaviour,” it says, including examples of crimes where individuals have been advertising, selling and administering fake vaccines tapping into public fears of missing out on the first wave of immunisations when supplies will be limited.

Key to those efforts will be finding and taking down websites that are being used to selling the falsified vaccines – or taking money from people for product that never arrives – and crucial to the effort will be close cooperation between law enforcement and regulatory authorities.

“As governments are preparing to roll out vaccines, criminal organisations are planning to infiltrate or disrupt supply chains,” according to Jürgen Stock, Interpol’s secretary general.

“Criminal networks will also be targeting unsuspecting members of the public via fake websites and false cures, which could pose a significant risk to their health, even their lives.”

The US federal government has also taken action on this issue, launching  Operation Stolen Promise 2.0 late last month in an attempt to identify and prevent the production, sale and distribution of illicit COVID-19 treatments and vaccines.

There have already been numerous cases this year of unapproved and mislabelled drugs being sold as COVID-19 treatments and falsified batches of drugs that are in clinical testing or the disease, as well as counterfeiting of coronavirus testing kits, personal protective equipment (PPE) and other medical supplies.

Interpol says that it has identified nearly 3,000 websites linked to online pharmacies suspected of being involved in the sales of illegal drugs and medical devices, with more than half of these carrying cyber threats like phishing and spamming malware.

Criminal gangs are also expected to start production and distribution of counterfeit coronavirus testing kits as international travel resumes, and airlines and immigration authorities start to ask that passengers have a negative test result.

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